Monday, July 16 , 2018, 5:41 am | Fair 65º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Traitor’

The film is a sobering reminder that freedom in any generation requires courage as well as sacrifice.

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

In every generation, there is a battle waged for the hearts and minds of the citizens of the world. That battle often feels as if it is becoming more ominous with each new incident. Some see this as a clash of economic systems or of the haves vs. the have-nots. Others see it as the great battle between self-centered Satan-seduced humankind and the forces of good — or God — that is the cosmic counterbalance in the history of the world. Regardless of your perspective, we are living in such a time today.

In Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s film Traitor, we are taken into the present fearful state of affairs in which terrorism appears as if it could touch us all, even in the small towns of America. We are living in a time where terrorists have succeeded in creating a fear of the unknown, and where, if it is possible for Middle Eastern terrorists to take down the World Trade Center, then it is certainly possible that a terrorist cell could blow up a bus in Texas or poison the water in Seattle.

Traitor follows the life of Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) from his childhood days where he witnesses his family members killed by terrorists in Yemen, to his life as a young adult where he sells explosives to terrorist cells and ultimately joins in with them in a potentially disastrous attack on U.S. soil. The plot is chilling in its believability. The intrigue is heightened when you have to decide whether Samir is a true believer in terrorism or whether he is a secret counter-terrorist working for the United States. Without giving away the film, the search for the answer to this question dominates this story.

Horn prays everyday and gives money to the local orphanage. He and his colleagues also plot to unleash panic in America’s heartland. This kind of behavior baffles the Western mind. What provokes a deeply religious man to enter into a plan to kill innocent people? 

If fear is the desired outcome of a terrorist, then they have succeeded in accomplishing their goal as testified by this film. The Islamic terrorists may be the latest manifestation of evil in the world, but it isn’t much different in its emotional impact than our fear of a nuclear attack in the 1950s or our fear of Adolf Hitler’s world domination in the 1930s.

The fundamental question raised by Traitor isn’t about the motives of a terrorist, but rather, what is the price we are willing to pay to maintain our humanity and our freedom? Many Americans today are willing to sell their birthright guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights for a fragile sense of well-being. Suspend people’s freedoms and detain anyone suspicious-looking is too often a rallying cry heard across the heartland and in the halls of Congress.

Just as in earlier global conflicts, such as World War II, there are many people today who are willing to sacrifice to preserve our freedoms. From 1941 to 1945, more than 3 million Americans gave their last ounce of freedom in order that their children could live under the freedoms that are the hallmark of the American way of life. 

Is it possible that we then become the “traitor” if we sacrifice the very freedoms that so many before us laid down their lives to preserve? Did millions of our fathers and grandfathers give their lives in vain?

Our calling is to live “for” something greater than ourselves, not to live “in fear” of something beneath us. Traitor is a sobering reminder that freedom in any generation requires courage as well as sacrifice. Terrorism will be defeated only when we stand up and courageously protect the freedoms granted us by our Constitution and Bill of Rights.


» The film has an Islamic leader expressing the belief that early Americans were terrorists when they were fighting for freedom from Britain. Do you believe this to be true or untrue? In what ways is it different from the attack on America by Islamic terrorists?

» If you were Samir, would you have come to the same conclusions as he did? Why or why not?

» The descriptors we often use to delineate ourselves from others can be religious language: We are Christians; they are Muslims. Yet when two groups go to war, it seldom has to do with religious motivation but with worldly gains in wealth and power. This means that most “religious wars” are not about religion. Do you agree with these statements or not? Why do you answer as you do?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit

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